National Museum has nearly 17,000 paintings, representing all important styles of Indian miniatures. It is one of the largest collections of miniature paintings in the country. The Miniature painting tradition has been a key form of Indian painting apart from murals, cloth paintings and paintings on wood. Among miniature paintings, the main schools have been- the Deccani (from the South), Mughal (Spanning Central and North India), Rajasthani (West India) and Pahari (From the hills of the North).
The Deccani style of painting, assimilated the influences from Iran, Europe and Turkey and evolved into a synthesized art form which differed from the styles prevalent in the north. The rare work 'Hindola Ragini' in National Museum Collection from Bijapur (in present-day Karnataka) is in early Deccani style and presents the Raga Hindola where Krishna is on a swing surrounded by lady musicians. A later Deccan period painting depicts Chand Bibi, the celebrated woman warrior of Bijapur playing polo.
The Mughal School is showcased in a dated folio of Baburnama, the autobiography of Babur (1598 C.E.); 'Tutinama', the story of a parrot and ‘Tawarikh-i-Alfi’ (the history of a thousand years) from Akbar's reign. The finish, blending of colours and the bold execution of calligraphy is remarkable in these works. Dating from Jehangir’s reign is his portrait and another of his meeting with Sufis. Shahjahan is depicted in a profusely illustrated painting describing the marriage of his son Dara Shikoh.
Rajasthan is equally famous for its miniature art, patronized mainly in the Royal courts from the 15th to the 19th century CE. Each Rajput style from various kingdoms evolved distinctively but with certain commonalities. There are numerous works in the Malwa, Mewar and Kishangarh styles. Most Rajput art focused on religious themes – the epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata, Krishna’s life and some scenic landscapes. 'Basohli' paintings, the oldest school among the 'pahari' style took its name from a town in Himachal Pradesh. There is a rare picture of Hari-Hara and a folio of the picturisation of the famed 'Gita Govinda' series. This work has been of great importance in the development of ‘Bhakti’ traditions of Hinduism. The Kangra School is covered by a miniature showing King Sansar Chand celebrating the birth of Krishna, as well as illustrations from Bhagavata Purana, Shiva Purana and Parijata Haran. A painting depicting a scene from the Ramayana is representative of the Chamba School.